With the Fire Emblem series in the early ’90s, Nintendo had a veritable hit on its hands. The fine mixture of strategic battles, RPG-style leveling and classical anime-fantasy resonated greatly with the Japanese players. The only problem: Fire Emblem’s perma-death feature frustrated many players. A few of these players worked for shooter specialist NCS and decided to make their own tactical game and to improve the rather rigid systems of Fire Emblem. And so, the Langrisser series was born.
The key difference between the two games: While the story characters in both games can die permanently if they fall on the battlefield, every general in Warsong (Langrisser’s U.S. title) can take eight units of soldiers into battle. Every unit represents ten men. Their victories raise the general’s experience, but at the same time, these soldiers are expendable. If you lose a few units, that’s no problem—you just buy new ones before the next battles. If troops fight in proximity to their commander, they fight much more effectively. Commanders are almost infinitely stronger than their troops. Often, they will wipe out an entire enemy unit with a single attack, and you rarely will best an enemy commander using only regular troops. Add to these complex mechanics a classic rock-paper-scissors-triangle and a few special units that are only effective in the right terrain or against a specific enemy and you have a game with an impressive tactical depth.
However, that is only one reason for Warsong’s success. A young illustrator called Satoshi Urushihara helped. While he’s mainly known as a notorious hentai artist with a fixation on detailed female breasts, he’s actually a pretty good designer of fantasy heroes and villains. For many Western players, the outlandish armors with their gigantic pauldrons and the beautiful female warriors struck a nerve. After all, these were the days when anime just arrived in the West. Even with the slighty modified portraits of the U.S. release, players were fascinated by the designs. The killer soundtrack by Noriyuki Iwadare, Hiroshi Fujioka, and Isao Mizoguchi helped as well.
It’s a real pity that the series never saw Western release after Warsong. Although there were many sequels and also a few remakes in Japan, no one bothered localising them. Langrisser’s spiritual sequel Growlanser had more luck: Most episodes came here. Gameplay-wise, however, Langrisser is the superior series. By mixing powerful-but-vulnerable heroes and expendable troops, Langrisser’s battles feel huge and epic. In the latter stages, it isn’t unusual to take several hundred men into battle.
If you play Warsong today, I hope you’re smarter than me. By relying on crutch-character Baldarov in the first couple of stages and always going for enemy leaders, the heroes of my first playthrough were seriously underlevlled by the games’ midpoint and couldn’t stand a chance against their enemies—starting over was the only viable option. Nevertheless, thanks to my newly acquired knowledge, I eventually beat all 20 stages of Langrisser. You should try it! G
Article by Thomas Nickel
GameSpite Journal 12: Warsong